How To Get The Most Out Of Your College Internship Program

Two male students sitting at an office desk working on their college internship program

A great way to gain experience and marketability is to have an internship. Chances are your college or local businesses may have an internship program you can apply to. Most of these internship programs are to give students a “real world” experience and prepare them for the job search process after college.

When looking for an internship focus on the career field you want to pursue. Internships put you in the industry, working with professionals and experts in the field. You will learn how the workplace operates, different departments, policies, regulations, and positions. And many internships lead to full-time paid positions. You will be exposed to tasks and skills that you can include on your resume. This will be critical for when you start job hunting.

Build A Professional Network

I don’t want you to end your internship program without building a professional network. It is hands-down the most important and impactful thing you can do when you become an intern. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”  Whether you like it or not, it’s true.

Never underestimate the power of networking. Your network can help you build skills, gain experience, and be a possible recommendation. They can also help you get a job or alert you to open positions. Along with your college classes and degree, they will become the foundation of your career.

You will most likely meet others within the company who have diverse work experience and professional connections. This variety of experiences, knowledge, and connections will be priceless. Use this to your benefit and start creating the framework for new skills and relationships with professionals in the industry. Be mindful that you may not get the chance to be exposed to as many skill sets, professionals, and cultural experiences as you will through your internship.

Now is not the time to be shy. I want you to introduce yourself to everyone. I want you to shake hands and ask questions. This is your opportunity to jumpstart your career and connections and showcase who you are.

If you haven’t, create a LinkedIn account and connect with everyone at work. The Complete LinkedIn Workshop for College Students will walk you through the step necessary to get your profile started and to make it look professional.

Be Professional

Professionalism is vitally important. You want to be taken seriously. You want to be seen as a future employee/coworker. Professionalism is a combination of competence, confidence, accountability, and respect. It is how you carry yourself and how you communicate with those around you. Being professional can ensure a positive first impression when you begin your internship.

For some, acting professionally comes naturally and for others, it is something they will have to work on. A college internship program will provide students with the soft skills needed to become a professional and move into leadership positions. You will develop and utilize skills, such as communication, teamwork, organization, problem-solving, and leadership.

Most students coming into an internship will have very little professional experience. This is normal. Don’t let this make you nervous. Working in a professional environment may be overwhelming but an internship is an opportunity to learn. You are not supposed to know everything. Just try and relax and absorb all you can.

The first week or two when you don’t know what to do or can’t find something, don’t stress. You are new so you’re not going to know where to find things or how to implement certain procedures. This is the perfect time to meet people and say, “Hi, my name is (blank) and I’m the new intern.” Coworkers will be more than happy to point you in the right direction or take a moment to explain things. They don’t expect you to know things, don’t worry or feel inferior if you don’t…you are not supposed to. In addition, this provides you the perfect opportunity to introduce yourself and get to know the people you will be working with (you are creating professional connections).

A close up of two hands shaking as a college intern introduces himself

Learn As Much As You Can

If you are lucky enough to get into a college internship program, don’t waste a minute of your time. Learn all you can about the job position and the industry you are working in. Meet as many people as you can, you never know where that contact will lead later in life. As an intern, you will be given opportunities to learn, gain real-life exposure, and meet and have access to professionals that would typically be out of your reach.  

Observe others in their job role to learn about different positions. You will be able to apply all that you learned in class and you will be exposed to tasks and skills that you can include on your resume. And before you leave be sure to Ask For A Letter Of Recommendation.

Don’t Forget To Enjoy Your College Internship Program

An internship is a lot of commitment and hard work. But it is also a great time in your life and career where you get to learn many new skills and meet a lot of new people. Try to enjoy yourself as much as possible and make the most out of your internship.